An appeal to the world

Published September 11, 2022

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres joined the premier on Friday to urge the world to help Pakistan as it struggles to cope with the aftermath of catastrophic floods. Pakistan needs massive financial assistance to recover, he said.

Days before, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had warned that the country would need “trillions of rupees” to rehabilitate 33m Pakistanis who have seen their lives washed away by the surging waters. With nearly 1,400 people dead, around a million livestock lost, as well as homes, crops, roads and other infrastructure destroyed or damaged, new estimates put the economic losses at about $20bn.

However, no estimate can capture even a fraction of human cost of the tragedy that continues to unfold in the affected parts of the country as the cash-strapped government struggles to deliver emergency services to the stranded people looking desperately for shelter, food and medicine. As the secretary-general pointed out, “The numbers [reflecting the economic losses] are appalling. But beyond the numbers, I see the families that have lost their loved ones, houses, crops, jobs and are living in desperate conditions”.

Read: ‘Nobody comes here’: Despair in some flooded areas, rebuilding in others

The exact extent of material losses will become clear only when the floodwaters recede and a thorough survey is carried out. The question is how the government plans to generate billions of dollars needed to help the affected communities rebuild their lives from scratch, and reconstruct the damaged infrastructure.

Earlier, the premier had rightly stressed that the scale of the destruction was so enormous that no government or country could be expected to deal with the challenge alone. As he joined the UN chief, he said: “We thank the international community for contributing […] but unless we get sufficient support for providing relief and repairing the damage, we will be in trouble.”

Also read: Balochistan’s Laal Gul Goth never existed on a map; following the floods, it doesn’t exist at all

Even though the UN has launched a flash appeal for funds to help the most affected people and many countries have dispatched planeloads of relief supplies like tents and food, the world’s initial response to the tragedy has so far been underwhelming at best. That’s not unexpected considering that the rich West, preoccupied with the Ukrainian crisis for several months now, is busy striving to stave off another economic recession amid historic inflation and energy supply disruptions.

Therefore, it would be naive to expect the world to step up to support Pakistan in the post-flood rehabilitation and reconstruction effort in a big way. Much of the cost will have to be borne by the nation itself. Mr Sharif has repeatedly promised the affected people that the government wouldn’t leave them in the lurch. Yet the experience of 2010 — or before and since then — shows that such commitments are conveniently forgotten once the intensity of the tragedy starts receding with the floodwaters. At the end of the day, the politically voiceless people are left to fund the cost of recovery on their own.

Published in Dawn, September 11th, 2022

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